Metal Clay FAQs with Patrik Kusek, Handmade Jewelry Designer
Patrik Kusek is an award-winning metal clay artist who specializes in metal clay micromosaics. Here are some general metal clay questions he hears frequently from students and his answers.
So Many Metal Clays
Q: I’m just starting out with metal clay, which clay should I buy?
A: I recommend that students start out with any of the fine silver clays. It might sound counterintuitive because silver will cost more, but not so. Base metal clays, although less expensive, usually require a kiln and present different challenges that might make it hard for a beginner to get great results. With the fine silver clays, such as PMC3, you’ll be able to torch fire your project. There will be fewer variables and you’ll get more consistent results from the fine silver clays.
Q: What is the advantage of using PMC+ over PMC3? I was looking at a supplier’s website and it appears that PMC3 can be torch fired at a lower temp. However, both clays almost have the same strength and durability after firing.
A: PMC+ is a little easier to work with because it is not as sticky. The two do have similar strengths, but PMC3 is a little stronger.
Q: I have a kitchen torch that I use for crème brulée. Can I use it to torch fire my metal clay?
A: Yes! Only certain clays can be torch fired, but this type of torch will work perfectly fine. As a matter of fact, that is what I used when I started out in metal clay. I was making jewelry and crème brulée, and was a happy guy!
Q: How can I remove excess lubrication from clay?
A: If after you have rolled out the clay you find that you have too much lubrication, there is an easy fix. Simply press the rolled out lubricated clay side onto the back of your hand. The lubrication will transfer to your hand leaving the clay ready to use.
Q: What happens if I use too much lubrication?
A: Excess lubrication can compromise the integrity of the clay, making it hard to make connections. It can also cause the clay to be weaker and harder to handle.
Soldering Metal Clay
Q: Can I solder on metal clay?
A: Yes, you can solder on metal clay. One of the easiest ways to solder on metal clay is to use paste solder.
Paste solder has flux incorporated in the solder, and because it’s fine silver you don’t need to pickle the piece. Paste solder also has more distinct indicators than traditional solder. When the paste starts to smoke and bubble, then the solder is just about the right temperature for it to flow. You might also view this video by Tim McCreight, which shows how to solder using traditional soldering methods.
Handling Metal Clay
Q: How can I tell if the clay is dry?
A: You’ll be able to tell when the clay is dry by taking a sharp awl and gently poking the back of the piece. If the tip of the awl goes into the clay, then it’s still wet. Put it back on the warmer for another 10 minutes. Alternatively, set the warm piece directly onto a mirror or other shiny surface, wait 3 seconds, then remove the piece. If the mirror is foggy, the piece is still a little wet.
Q: Can fired metal clay be repaired?
A: Fired metal clay can be repaired by using metal clay paste with an oil base. You can make your own oil paste by adding 10 to 15 drops of a natural essential oil such as lavender oil to a jar of metal clay paste. Mix until incorporated, then let it rest overnight. Use the paste like glue to make the repairs, then fire the piece in a kiln at the recommended temperature.
Q: What can I use to dry metal clay?
A: You can use a food dehydrator, mug warmer, or candle warmer. The most important thing is to set the piece on a Teflon sheet or a playing card that is lubricated. I like the dehydrators that have a fan because it speeds drying, and I can use it for larger or multiple pieces. Have a dedicated dehydrator or warmer that is used only for metal clay or craft projects, not food.
You can also just let it air dry, which is useful if you need pieces to be super flat. However, it takes time to air dry, and I’m too impatient for that!
A Few Tricks and Fixes
Q: What if the stone comes out of the setting after it has dried? Is there a fix, and what went wrong?
A: More often than not, it will be fine. Just set it back in and fire it. Be sure to fire it on a flat surface. When the clay shrinks, it will lock the stone into place — unless the gemstone was not set deep enough, and then this will not work. The top of the stone should be flush with the surface of the clay.
Q: Can I resize a metal clay ring that is too small?
A: Yes. Rings made of metal clay can be resized larger by about a ½ size or so. Anything more than that, though, and you run the risk of rupturing the ring.
Q: I need to divide a circle into 6 equal parts. What is the easiest way to accomplish this?
A: The easiest way is to use a circle divider template. Simply center the circle over the template and mark the divisions as indicated on the template. You can download the template here or on my website.
Just Do It!
Q: I’ve had a package of silver metal clay for some time now and I’m having trouble getting started. I’m afraid to use it because of the cost.
A: This is one of the most common questions that I hear, so you are not alone. It can be intimidating because nobody wants to waste money. Fear not! One of the best parts of using metal clay is that you can reconstitute your mistakes. What you see is what you get: it will just be a little smaller.
If you have not fired the clay, you can reconstitute it back into workable clay and simply start over. If you have fired it and don’t like the results, you can send it to a refinery and get money for your silver. Another option for fired metal clay is to melt it down and use it for casting. Very little gets wasted in the process.
Get more with Patrik!
See our interview with Patrik Kusek on Wednesday, March 31, 2017! Discover his metal clay micromosaics, which he teaches in these two videos: Intro to Base Metal Clay and Micromosaics and Intermediate Metal Clay Micromosaics.